Sometimes we are persuaded to do things ourselves and there is merit in that. I have every admiration for people who can spend their time plastering and building, wiring and plumbing not to mention gardening. Our German friend, who lives in the UK, tells us that in Germany, you are not ‘a man’ until you have built your own house. As if to demonstrate, his retired father-in-law came over and pretty nearly rebuilt their house – it is beautiful. Maybe that was cheating a little but the point stands – in some countries there are such traditions.
Now while we are a nation of shopkeepers and DIYers, I always find DIY frustrating. I know what tool I need but haven’t got it – worse, I have it but can’t find it. I need a pot of paint but the one in the garage doesn’t match the colour or is out of date. So I waste my time going to and from the hardware store, which doesn’t sit well with my general impatient personality but I buy things so now I have a garage full of clutter as well as the cupboard under the stairs… So for our recent bathroom renovation, I did a lot of the ordering and stuff – buying the shower and basin unit plus some extra flooring – essentially project managing. But we had Danny our builder do the work. More of that later.
In the past I have done plumbing and wiring, repaired a roof and know how a house is constructed; I’ve rebuilt car engines and gearboxes and generally know how a car works; I’ve built radios and such when a boy, so I can point our son in that direction (he is a dab hand at soldering now). When we recently had a flat tyre (caused by a screw in the middle, probably from the building work), I was able to say why and that it didn’t need a new tyre, just a repair so saving at least £60 ($96).
It reminds me of a friend of ours who, seen reading a book on skiing while his wife and daughters were on the slopes, was approached by a Bulgarian who correctly inferred that he must be an ‘English academical’. When asked why he had come to that conclusion, he was told that ‘only an English academical would study skiing from a book’. In fact they became firm friends so perhaps that was the outcome intended!
Like our friend, I prefer to know in principle how to do something so I can talk to my builder, mechanic or whatever but have him do it. (In fact I quite enjoy skiing but am not particularly good at it).
Knowing how to do things is often as important as doing them. We have a window cleaner – a nice lad called Chris who is of Polish extraction – I think his grandfather came here after the war. He is very good, honest and trustworthy as are we. He employs a few people and once cleared a small tree from our gutter for us which was causing overflow when it rained – a frequent occurence in Manchester. Some years ago, when previous window cleaners came round, waved their rag at the windows and rang the doorbell for £10 ($16), I bought one of those brush-and-scraper things which, it was claimed, meant you could save hundreds of pounds by cleaning your own windows. After all, cleaning windows isn’t rocket science. The problem was that it was rubbish so it stayed in the garage collecting dust and spiders.
But I have finally found a use for it. Danny our builder has recently refitted our top floor bathroom and one bedroom. But the one thing that hadn’t been done after decoration was to clean the windows. The problem is that these are on the second floor and Chris’s ladders won’t reach so the windows have become very grubby. I thought about those magnetic things where you clean both sides at once. But the windows are double glazed and the outside cleaner would fall off. Anyway Chris was very disparaging.
Then I remembered the window cleaning tool and this morning cleaned the windows. A bit of time with a hacksaw reducing the pole length, some cleaner, a microfibre cloth and I managed to clean the windows. They aren’t brilliant but it just about doubles the amount of light that comes into the room! Ten or more years after buying it, the gadget has finally paid its way.
What’s the return on investment? Pretty low I think. Better to have bought one yesterday!